Civil Liberties

Sorry, NRA, Gamers Won This Culture War, But it Doesn't Mean They All Love the Violence

Introspection, not regulation, leads to analysis of video game violence


Last week, before the National Rifle Association came roaring out of the gates to blame the First Amendment for one young man's violent rampage in Connecticut, I made note that the attempt to scapegoat video games fell kind of flat this time.

And then NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre tried to put video games back in the crosshairs, naming the usual suspects like Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat as well as some flash game they found online called Kindergarten Killer from the deep bowels of the Internet circa 2002. (For those who are new to the Internet, there is somewhere on the web a flash game that allows you to do any horrible thing you could ever possibly imagine, like killing your boss or herding sheep.)

While the coverage of Adam Lanza's rampage has led to the typical chin-stroking about our violent culture from those prone to such tiresome fretting on both the left and the right, it's pretty clear nothing will come of LaPierre's deflections. Unless the NRA is going to go on the record as opposing warfare (and the military component of their site suggests that's not going to be happening any time soon), they're hardly in the position to complain about what our culture values. Notice LaPierre did not name any war games or war movies in his spiel about how our violent culture is turning kids into killers?

In any event, the Supreme Court, in a decision written by Justice Anton Scalia in 2011, ruled video games are protected by the First Amendment, so any political posturing on the matter isn't going to amount to anything. Gamers and the video game industry won this war. There is no evidence that violent video games lead to real world violence. Those who use statistical information to defend their pet causes should be aware of the statistical information that defends their potential scapegoats.

But lack of government action doesn't mean that, culturally, video game violence is not a concern within the industry. At the E3 video game trade conference last summer, game producer Warren Spector complained about the violence:

The ultraviolence has to stop. We have to stop loving it. I just don't believe in the effects argument at all, but I do believe that we are fetishizing violence, and now in some cases actually combining it with an adolescent approach to sexuality. I just think it's in bad taste. Ultimately I think it will cause us trouble.

A reboot of Tomb Raider announced earlier this year provoked discussion in game media when early demonstrations made it seem as though protagonist Lara Croft could possibly be violently raped by crooks. It turned out not to be the case – though she could still be brutally murdered by them.

Games can and do sometimes tackle violence in serious ways. One game released this year, Spec Ops: The Line, generated huge buzz among gamers when what appeared to be a typical shooter set in a war zone turned out to be anything but. Instead, the storyline was designed to make the player question the morality of what he was doing by slowly but surely revealing that the protagonist had lost his mind and that his slaughter was not an act of heroism (I haven't played the game myself because I am awful at shooters, but here's a New York Times review).

There will always be gory video games, just as there will always be gory movies, but as the gaming medium continues to grow, the market will continue to provide alternatives to those who are not interested in violence. The solution to bad games is more games.